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When longtime Bozeman resident Shaun Durkee started Alpen Fuel in the fall of 2018, it was an online storefront selling high-quality, nutritious backpacking food from small brands Durkee couldn’t find in big stores.

When COVID-19 hit this spring and Durkee was laid off from his job of nine years, he and his wife Emily decided to go all in on Alpen Fuel. It was intimidating, Durkee said, but his years of working as materials manager for a local optics company gave him the know-how to take on the challenge.

“We knew that if we were going to go full time with it, we really had to scale it beyond just carrying other peoples’ products,” he said. “So we decided that we would give it a go and go all in on our own products and on the brand.”

Alpen Fuel food is intended to be a healthier, higher-calorie backpacking food that isn’t loaded up with sodium, he said, and would also be something to look forward to eating after a day on the trail or a night in a tent.

Emily is instrumental in getting the recipes right and in scaling up the manufacturing, as well as giving input “every step of the way,” Durkee said.

Durkee grew up in Helena doing “all the normal Montana stuff,” like backpacking, fishing and hunting. That, combined with his background in industrial engineering and Montana State University degrees in engineering and entreprenurship, is what helped him create meals that do everything they need to without being burdensome or taking a long time to cook.

“Meals that are out there seem to be real high in sodium, they have lots of packaging, they might take up to 15 minutes to prepare,” Durkee said.

“We wanted to go in the opposite direction of all that. Something anybody could use, really tasty, really filling, small packaging … we tried to optimize and check all the boxes that we could.”

Alpen Fuel bills itself as a “hardscrabble” brand. Durkee said that title is not just for show.

“That’s really true. We’ve been trying to bootstrap this, and put our own money into it,” he said. “It’s stressful, some of the things that we’ve done, but there’s certainly enjoyment there too. It’s been a fun learning process.”

At the beginning of November, Durkee moved Alpen Fuel into the kitchen of Fork & Spoon. Having an industrial kitchen is mandatory for the licensing and permits to sell food products commercially.

Durkee goes to the kitchen around 4 a.m. to manufacture Alpen Fuel foods, and is out of the kitchen early enough that Fork & Spoon’s staff can prepare pay-what-you-can meals for folks in need.

That arrangement has been a win-win, Durkee said.

“Our rent that we pay helps support them putting meals in front of low income folks, so it’s been a really good relationship so far,” he said.

Right now, Alpen Fuel has a few different flavors of granola meals that can be made in five minutes with hot or cold water, as well as the variety of other brands and backpacking meals it carries on its website, alpenfuel.com. Durkee is working on manufacturing additional Alpen Fuel-branded foods and products, and expects to be sending samples out to dealers before 2020 is over.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.